Regarding Recent Events

Since sharing this essay on Sunday, May 31 about the killings of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, I have been a part of several crucial, painful conversations with community members, the overriding theme of which has been to see Hackley move from conversation to action on issues of racism and injustice. I am grateful to those who participated--both students and adults--for the direct nature of these conversations, leading me to insights on ways we can and must do better.

On Monday, June 1, faculty gathered with Upper School students in an Air and Share, an open-invite meeting for Upper School students to process these events via videoconference. The students were honest and the emotions were raw. For our students of color and others who stand as their allies, current events were unfortunately not new, but have elevated our society’s awareness of violence experienced by people of color. Our students are frightened, frustrated, and exhausted, and they are looking to us--the adults and the school--to support them and make lasting changes.

I then listened to my colleagues reflect similar emotions and experiences during an all-employee meeting on June 2. On a video call with over 170 participants, colleagues shared personal stories and expressed frustration and fear at the lack of change in society and at Hackley. On June 3, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team and I met with four Hackley seniors as a follow up to a letter they had shared with the community earlier that week. Our conversation showed the depths of their commitment to the community, their disappointment with different experiences here, and their sincere desire to effect change. Black lives matter and I stand with our black students, families, and colleagues to explicitly say so during this especially painful moment.

Questions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have been central to our work on the Hilltop over recent years, beginning with the creation of the Task Force on Community and Inclusion in spring 2017, my first at Hackley, up through the adoption of Hackley’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement of Purpose in December. The value of this important work underscores that which is painfully clear at this moment: Hackley--and I--need to move from condemnation and conversations to action.

Coming out of the June 3 meeting, we will add more student voices in the planning of events and programming, an action students urged us to consider. Additionally, they wanted greater transparency into the work adults within the community are doing around these issues, including professional development and curriculum development. Importantly, and in support of living into our Portrait of a Graduate, students want to see a greater diversity of perspectives represented in the curriculum. Academic leaders will use this summer to examine the perspectives and stories that are present throughout our curriculum. Not satisfied with the current state, each of these actions represents a tangible step we can take to improve our culture and a Hackley education.

Finally, I also noted my desire to communicate directly with students and all of our families as a follow up message to my post on May 31. Race and racism are hardly new, yet they can be so difficult to discuss due to the discomfort they raise within many of us, not only here at Hackley but elsewhere in society. Speaking personally, I worry that my words will land clumsily, hurting others or creating misunderstanding. Still, I must push past my discomfort in discussing issues of race and racism to engage with both the complexity and humanity, and moving from conversations to action. To me, this is not about being politically correct; it is about validating every member of our community and their lived experience.

One concrete step I will be taking this summer--and I urge all members of our community to join me--is to further educate myself. While I have done a lot of reading and professional development on issues of race and racism as an educator, I feel underprepared for these conversations as the father of two elementary-aged students. I have to imagine that I am not alone. Fortunately, Hackley’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team have collected a series of resources related to race, racism, and the protests happening around the country. I am sharing just a few of these below so that as a community, we have the resources we need to engage in age-appropriate conversations in our homes to create a stronger community here on the Hilltop.

As challenging and emotional as these events and subsequent conversations have been for everyone, I am heartened that we are in dialogue with one another. We can find strength in our community, supporting one another, listening to one another, and then acting together to address issues of race, racism, and injustice.

I will provide an additional update before the end of August regarding the steps we intend to take for the 2020-2021 school. I welcome your continued ideas and engagement in this work.


Michael C. Wirtz P ’29 ’31